Salman Ahmed Shaikh
In the ancient world, women inherited nothing and even when they inherited, they were treated like a minor. Women usually had no independent legal personality. The pre-Islamic Arabs were opposed to inheritance for women, who could not inherit as long as a male member of the family existed.
These Arabs were greatly surprised when the Qur’an explicitly said:
“For men is a share of what the parents and the near relatives leave, and for women is a share of what the parents and the near relatives leave…’ (Surah an-Nisa, 4:32).
Islam has given women a share in inheritance. Before Islam, women were not only deprived of that share, but were considered as property to be inherited by men. In Islam, whether a woman is a wife or a mother, a sister or a daughter, she receives a certain share from the wealth of the deceased close relative.
This share is hers by divine injunctions, and no one can take it away or disinherit her. Even if the deceased wishes to deprive her by making a will to other relations or in favor of any other cause, the Islamic law will not allow that to happen.
According to the Islamic law, a son receives twice as much as a daughter, a brother twice as much as a sister and a husband twice as much as a wife. But, this does not mean that the shares of men and women are unequal in all circumstances. In the case of father and mother, the share of both is the same in the wealth left by their deceased children.
Even if a deceased only leaves behind female heirs, they will be given their prescribed share. In one of the case, the only daughter the deceased leaves behind may receive as much as half of the inheritance and if there are more than two daughters, they together get two-third (2/3) of the remaining inheritance.
Muslim mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters had received inheritance rights roughly fourteen hundred years before Europe recognized that these rights should even exist in the first place. According to the Encyclopedia Americana, in English Common law, all the real property held by a woman at the time of her marriage became the property of her husband. He was entitled to the rent from the land and any profit that might be made from managing it. It was not until the late 1870s onwards in Europe that married women achieved the right to enter contracts and own property. In France, this right was not recognized until as late as 1938.
As per Islamic inheritance law, a son receives twice as much as a daughter, a brother twice as much as a sister and a husband twice as much as a wife. In order to understand the rationale behind this rule, one must take into account the fact that the financial obligations of men in Islam far exceed those of women.
As per Islam, Muslim women can own property and wealth. They are entitled to have ‘Mehr’ (wealth at the start of marriage), ‘Wirasat’ (share in inheritance upon the death of husband, children, father and in some cases brother[s]). Islam does not make it obligatory on women to earn for their family. However, they can earn for the family and yet they are not obliged to spend their earnings on the family. They have a right to choose an occupation and earn. However, men are obliged to spend their earnings on the family and they are made primarily responsible for earning the livelihood for their family.
Besides, it needs to be realized that Islam highly regards family life. It strongly encourages young individuals to get married and Islam does not regard celibacy as a virtue. Hence, one could appreciate that Muslim men, in general, have greater financial burdens than Muslim women. Male heir is burdened with all financial responsibilities; whereas, a female heir is burdened with no financial responsibilities.